Cyberpunk 2077 Review — The City Is Alive And It Hates You
Cyberpunk 2077 is a deeply conflicting game, one that you'll end up loving but will also hate and feel profoundly disappointed by.
CD Projekt Red
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
First-Person Shooter, Western RPG
Review copy provided by the publisher
It hasn’t been that long since the release of Cyberpunk 2077, and I’ve already put a day, a full 24 hours of my life into it. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. However, what I’ve uncovered from that scratch is something that doesn’t match the game’s shiny coat. Underneath all the glitz and glam, under all the chrome and synth-leopard fur, is a deeply flawed game. Cyberpunk 2077 is extremes within extremes. Its world is on a magnitude I’ve never seen, its quests are all varied and fun, its bugs are numerous and ever-present. There is nothing that Cyberpunk 2077 does in a half-measure, even when it comes to its worst parts.
I started my run in Cyberpunk 2077 on the Corpo life path, one of three available to players at the start. While this beginning wasn’t as action-packed as I thought it would be, it aligned more with and prepared me for the rest of my time in the game. The offices of Arasaka are where I read my first shard, was an asshole to my first NPC, and saw my first T-pose. The game also never lets you forget where V’s adventure started. Picking any lifepath leaves experiences and a wealth of knowledge with V, which manifest in unique dialogue choices throughout the remainder of Cyberpunk 2077. This decision to having V’s life path affect the rest of the game should give you a hint of what to expect in its remainder — every choice matters, even if you think it won’t.
Once players are finished with the game’s prologue, a whopping 6-hour affair that ends with a title-screen and the introduction of one Johnny Silverhand, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 finally opens up. Until this point, players are led by hand to the next story mission or objective. Sure, there are some side jobs to do, but getting through the prologue as fast as possible should be a goal for anyone playing the game. Not necessarily because it’s an unpleasant experience, but because everything that comes after is so much better, so much worse, and so very much worth it.
Eaten By The City
Actually playing Cyberpunk 2077 is like a tug-of-war. The game will never stop trying to pull you into its mysterious alleys, towering skyscrapers, and massive crowds. As someone that enjoyed exploring the desert of Fallout: New Vegas‘ Mojave Wasteland, you could only imagine how I felt when presented with the labyrinthian design of Night City. Of the time I’ve spent playing the game, a good chunk of it has been me walking around, taking in the sights and sounds.
Around every corner though, there’s something ready to rip you out of the city. A busker playing an invisible guitar or an NPC sitting in mid-air. There are no perfect moments that happen while you’re exploring Night City, the game does away with that. Which is kind of ironic, considering the parasitic relationship so many characters in the game actually seem to have with the city. It sucks them dry, bleeds their wallets, and eventually kills them, building taller buildings on their corpses. The city does the same to players, enticing them with its bright lights and promises of an experience unlike any other. Once you fall for it, the trap is sprung, and you’re experiencing something completely different.
When you’re just driving around Night City though, not looking too closely at it, it is simply awe-inspiring. I’ve never played a game set in a world on such a massive scale. Night City is bustling full of life, from its homeless camps to the skyscrapers and beyond. No matter where you look, there’s something interesting to catch your eye. Some of my favorite moments in the city are when I’m just driving around in it, crossing a massive bridge that grants a perfect vantage on the next borough. From there, you can see massive towers, ads for some low brow sex-filled product plastered on the side. It’s amazing to see, and even more, fun to be in the middle of.
Once you move out of the city proper, that feeling still continues. In Pacifica, an area abandoned by corps that was once going to be a tourist destination, the hustle and bustle aren’t there. In the distance, I heard a siren ring out before slowly fading away. After, all I could hear was the creaking of rusty metal. Then, once you get into the badlands, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 takes on a new life. You hear, for once, the quiet. No blaring music, no cars or flying vehicles. It’s a unique moment, one that makes the world, as long as you’re not facing the city itself, actually seem normal. Night City has that kind of duality, and it adds to its overall presence.
Like any other living thing, Night City has a sound. Thankfully, that sound is constantly brilliant. Cyberpunk 2077‘s soundtrack is enthralling, building onto the world’s already wonderful immersion. As I passed by food stands in Kabuki town I could hear high-pitched Japanese pop blasting. Pacifica is practically drowned in hip-hop club beats. Every area has its own sound profile and songs to match. When you’re in combat, the game’s music only works harder, keeping the pressure on with deep, pulsating electronic tones.
“Night City is beautiful, it is full of life, and it constantly wants to kill you. It’s the best area I’ve played in during any open-world game.”
I have to give CD Projekt Red serious praise here. Night City is one of the most deeply flawed open-world areas I’ve ever played in, but it’s not its fault. If this game itself were technologically perfect, no bugs, no weird visual glitches, I would be constantly lost in Night City. I understand its attraction — it’s somewhere that’s so much bigger than you are. But it’s also full of venom, waiting for one falter in its people before it pounces. The city has its own traits, all owed to CD Projekt Red’s designers and artists. They managed to take the twisted cityscapes of classic Cyberpunk works like Bladerunner and turn them into a reality. Except, this city isn’t a set piece, it’s a player. When you first step out of V’s apartment and see its bustling streets, that’s its beauty. When you look in dark alleys and see the people that society turns away from, you see its desperation. Night City is beautiful, it is full of life, and it constantly wants to kill you. It’s the best area I’ve played in during any open-world game.
Trans-Humanism Stays Human
Cyberpunk 2077 is still a CD Projekt Red title, and the famed Witcher developer’s main traits are more than visible. The game’s main story quests are brilliant works of writing, and when you’re doing more than talking to other characters, the action itself is unique and adrenaline pumping. Of course, these quests are also varied. CD Projekt Red isn’t new to making a slew of different quests and that continues here. There are serious missions that can change the fate of characters you meet, then there are ones analogous to that one frying pan quest in The Witcher 3. Regardless of what you’re doing though, it’s always fresh and interesting.
However, there’s an issue when those main quests are presented next to the game’s side quests. A number of these side jobs and gigs, although fun distractions, detract somewhat from the main story. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s a clock ticking somewhere for those following the game’s main path. If you were to only follow those, Cyberpunk 2077 becomes a game of urgency. Instead, I played how I play any open-world RPG— one main mission sprinkled in between side missions and exploration. I took my time as V only to then be reminded of the massive clock that had, for some reason, paused and suddenly resumed. It’s slightly jarring storytelling, but it didn’t take away from my overall appreciation of what was being offered.
Thankfully, Cyberpunk 2077‘s characters are more consistent in their quality and writing. Judy Alvarez, a woman that edits braindances, which you can think of as essentially futuristic high-end skin flicks, is just one of the deeply complex characters you’ll run across. On the outside, she’s just a woman that does her job well, but once you start her questline that changes. Players get to see her shell slowly crumble away, and eventually, her vulnerabilities, insecurities, and inner beauties are laid bare. The same applies to Panam, a hot-tempered Nomad that finds herself fearing her own impulses for the first time in her life. Even characters like the always cool Dexter DeShawn are broken down, and players soon see another side of them.
It’s hard to talk about characters in Cyberpunk 2077 without acknowledging Johnny Silverhand, the renowned asshole voiced and modeled after Keanu Reeves. Suffice to say, from the beginning Johnny Silverhand isn’t that impressive, and parts of him remain that way throughout the game. At times, the intensity of Reeves’ voice and Silverhand’s face don’t match up, or vice versa. There are multiple points where Reeves’ voice acting is just below the game’s stellar par, something I hate to say as a big fan of his work in movies. But when he’s talking immediately after V, there’s a notable difference in quality. Still, the character of Johnny Silverhand is amazingly written. He’s a disaster of a man, furious at the world and himself for living in it. His writing doesn’t make up for his voice, but it comes very close.
Finally, there’s V, who ended up being one of my favorite characters in the game, and not just because I played as them. I won’t get into the details or spoil anything, but the further along I got in the game, the more I realized that V is, well, human. They have their own thoughts, ideals, and desires. Sure, we as players are telling him what to do, who to shoot at, but we’re always working inside the constraints of V’s psyche. They are a flawed, scared human in a city where those are chewed up and spit out. There’s something to say here about V’s mental state, their anxieties, and desires, but this isn’t the time nor place for that. I’ll simply say that while you’re running around as V, remember to actually listen to them, understand them as more than an extension of yourself into this game world. They have a lot more personality than Geralt, and it’d simply be a waste for that to go undiscovered.
Making A V
While there are parts of V that can’t be changed, players mostly do have free reign for the character. The game has an extensive character creator that I made an absolute clown in, but left in the right hands, can create something amazing. I do have to point out though how disappointing it is that there aren’t more gender options available. Even being able to pick pronouns for V would be an improvement on what’s offered. Non-binary gamers have to look towards this year’s Call of Duty entry for representation instead of one of the largest RPGs of the past decade, and that’s just silly.
“They (V) have a lot more personality than Geralt, and it’d simply be a waste for that to go undiscovered.”
But once you’ve sculpted your V and decided what they’ll sound like, it’s up to you to decide how they’ll actually play and dress. The game has an abundance of armor and weapons, not to mention perks. And thankfully, because of weird RPG mechanics, a pair of booty shorts can protect V just as well as a highly-advanced polymer bulletproof vest. The options to dress how you want are there if you’re willing to look for them. Of course, if keeping stats high is the goal, your V will look… unique.
One thing that you shouldn’t be too creative with is picking perks. At first, the perk tree in Cyberpunk 2077 is, much like the game’s map, overwhelming to look at. There’s a lot going on at once; lots of perks, lots of text, it’s just a lot. But, that scale allows for a lot of flexibility in builds, you can really play however you want. If you want V to be a netrunner, you can pump all of your ability points into intelligence and technical ability. If you want to be a fierce solo, dump points into body and reflexes. So on and so forth, the game lets you meld V to your preferred playstyle and makes ample room for any variations.
That being said, the game’s main story will throw straightforward boss fights at you, things that you can’t hack your way out of. In these cases, it clearly favors a V built towards brute force. At all other times though, Cyberpunk 2077 encourages a diversity of playstyles. The game is meant to be played through multiple times, not just so you can experience different choices and options, but so you can play through the game in a radically different manner.
The City’s Ghosts
Being such a huge project, it’s not surprising that many of Cyberpunk 2077‘s features fall flat. The worst offender of this is the game’s stealth systems. For a title that is so decidedly “next-gen,” being sneaky in Cyberpunk 2077 feels like an experience from an Xbox 360 game. Enemies have cones of vision you can see on the minimap and small indicators above their heads that slowly fill if they spot you. They can be distracted by using quick-hacks on electronics, but let’s be real, that’s just a high-tech version of throwing rocks as a distraction a la the Far Cry series. Stealth gameplay in Cyberpunk is slow, monotonous, and dreadfully boring instead of tense and thrilling.
Even the game’s driving mechanics feel dated. Although every vehicle has a different feel, they’re all in the god-awful section of the driving spectrum. None of the cars I’ve driven have been easy or fun to control, and in a game where getting around is so important, it’s a bummer. Cyberpunk 2077 loves to flaunt its gorgeous vehicles, from their sleek exteriors to their lush, high-end interiors. But no matter what ride V plants himself in, they’re all mostly the same. All those buttons on the dashboard are a facade, they don’t actually do anything. At least in Grand Theft Auto V players could lower or raise the roof on convertible cars. All I can do is accidentally fuse my motorcycle with a taco stand thanks to the game’s weird collision detection.
Cyberpunk 2077‘s crafting system also leaves something to be desired. It’s uninventive, the menus for crafting are a mess, and at least as far as I can remember, it’s never properly explained. At some point, I just noticed that there was a crafting tab in menus and went over to it. That being said, my experience in the game would largely be the same if I totally ignored crafting. It’s not necessary considering how many guns, consumables, and bullets are vomited out from the game’s containers and straight into V’s hands.
“All I can do is accidentally fuse my motorcycle with a taco stand thanks to the game’s weird collision detection.”
You’d also be remiss heading into Cyberpunk 2077 expecting a combat-oriented experience. I know I mentioned adrenaline-pumping missions and sequences, and those are all there, but they aren’t the focus of this game. Cyberpunk 2077 is an RPG through and through, the focus is on talking and bonding with characters. It makes sense then that combat leaves something to be desired at times. Just aiming with guns feels slightly off, jittery even. Melee combat is entirely unsatisfying, registering hits when you punch the air a foot to the left of your opponent’s head. That being said, if you want to do a run with the game’s mantis blades, go for it. Just be prepared for the visual of V chopping a person to bits wearing off after the first couple of hours.
Quick hacks also play a massive part in combat and are one of its more interesting features. In the midst of battle, V can launch a hostile program at an enemy, messing with their cybernetics or straight up setting them on fire by kicking their electronic bits into overdrive. So, while combat on its own isn’t much to write home about, pairing it with quick hacks gives Cyberpunk 2077 a unique take that leaves you feeling completely in control of the battlefield. It doesn’t make up for some of its janky-ness, but it certainly redeems combat sequences.
To Live And Die In Night City
Cyberpunk 2077 is a game unlike any other I’ve played, ever. Period. It’s wholly unique in terms of its content, its scale, and the story it tells. It throws you into a strange world glistening with chrome and neon and offers a plethora of options. Every decision you make has an effect, either small or huge, and you’ll only know when it happens. That extends to both the game’s quests and characters, every action has a consequence. When you get into the belly of Night City, you’ll either be thrilled and ready to explore or overwhelmed and ready to quit. Like I said before, it’s a game full of extremes within extremes.
However, past all the bugs and overlooked or underdeveloped gameplay features is something that won’t be done again for a very long time. Part of that can be chalked up to the harsh development process at CD Projekt Red, but I feel another is simply because the studio truly is capable of crafting incredible experiences. It’s a shame then that Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t as good as it should be. It’s a great game, as my score for it reflects, but I can’t help but play the game and wish that some things were fixed before release, that I didn’t have to wait an extra two months for this game to be what it should have been. But them’s the breaks, and this is the game we’re left with. I’m still going to play it for much, much longer than I should, and I’ll enjoy it for all that time. But there will be moments where I wish that things were just a little different.